Valley of the Netflix Events: Fear Street

fear street books

 

Premier YA horror writer R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books were given a witchy Netflix slasher overhaul for a three-week, three-movie event in July of 2021 – here’s how it unfolded…

fear street 1994 2021

FEAR STREET: 1994

2.5 Stars  2021/18/108m

“Face the evil.”

Director/Writer: Leigh Janiak / Writers: R.L. Stine, Kyle Killen, Phil Graziadei / Cast: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Jeremy Ford, Maya Hawke.

Body Count: 8


I read some Point Horror when I was younger, but had never heard of Fear Street – although R.L. Stine’s name was well known in the Young Adult chiller territory. Thus, I wasn’t able to comprehend the excitement when this Netflix trilogy was announced (having been shot in 2019 and intended for a theatrical release but delayed due to Covid). It’s no problem, there’s been plenty of horror I’ve been alien to that’s turned out fine. Rather big spoilers follow.

Beginning with a good throwback to 90s slasher conventions with the now-standard stalking and slashing of a teenage girl (seriously, when will it be a guy?), this time caught as she’s closing up for the night at the mall bookstore she works in. The scene is fun and nostalgic for its era, but sadly it’s also where 1994 peaks.

fear street 1994 2021 maya hawke

Credits tell us that the town of Shadyside, where the crime occurred (six other bodies are found at the mall) has a long bloody history of residents flipping out and embarking on killing sprees – from a milkman in 1950, to a girl slashing up her friends with a razor in ’63, the Camp Nightwing murders of ’78, and now this.

Downbeat local teen Deena has more important issues to deal with though. Her alcoholic father is never around and the love of her life, Sam, has defected to neighbouring town Sunnyvale, which is the Eagleton to Shadyside’s Pawnee, if you watch Parks & Rec. Pretty much a case of the haves and have-nots.

fear street 1994 2021

News of the murder is shocking but not too surprising for the teen contingent, including Deena’s friends Katie and Simon, and also her nerdy younger brother Josh. It’s all rumoured to be because of a witch, Sarah Fier, who cut off her own hand 300 years earlier before locals hanged her, possessing the minds of random locals into intermittent homicidal rages. As the local rhyme goes:

Before the witch’s final breath
She found a way to cheat death
By cutting off her evil hand
She kept her grip upon the land

But it’s all just folklore right? You’d think, but when Deena inadvertently causes a car accident trying to exact some petty revenge of Sam, the latter bleeds on the land and has a vision of the witch and, subsequently, the skull-masked mall killer who was shot dead at the scene reappears and begins slashing anew, taking out some hospital staff. 60s maniac Ruby Lane then reappears and tries to slash Simon a new one, and finally the Camp Nightwing maniac bursts into the present, swinging a lethal axe about.

fear street 1994 2021 kiana madeira olivia scott welch

The group work out the killers are all after Sam’s blood and do their best to protect her – yes, her, Fear Street serves us up two lesbian final girls. While the all-knowing local Sheriff clears up the mess left by the killers, the teens commandeer a supermarket in an attempt to temporarily kill Sam, then resuscitate her to break the curse… Remember, they’ve not seen Final Destination 2 in this reality yet.

I was sixteen in the summer of 1994 and so have strong memories associated to the sad-panda teen years. While there’s an AoL chatroom and all manner of MTV hits from the likes of Garbage, Sophie B. Hawkins, Portishead, and Bush, that’s about as nostalgic as it gets. The teens not having cellphones is the only other tell tale sign of the times. Marco Beltrami’s score does successfully lend a Screamie throwback to events though.

fear street 1994 2021

The pacing is also awkward, after the opening kill, there’s a long, long wait until anything horror-related happens again and the murder sequences come in short blitzes, leaving the film vulnerable to tedious drama, as Deena mopes about her relationship issues, and the group very slowly concoct their plan. An impressive chase-and-kill involving a bread slicer is harsh and also too little too late. But the main problem for me lay with the uninteresting or simply unlikeable characters.

I should note I was recovering from Covid the week this came out, so maybe I was tripping on meds.

*

FEAR STREET: 1978fear street 1978 2021

4 Stars  2021/18/111m

“Find the truth.”

Director/Writer: Leigh Janiak / Writers: R.L. Stine, Phil Graziadei, Zak Olkewicz / Cast: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Ted Sutherland, Chiara Aurelia, Gillian Jacobs, Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Michael Provost, Drew Scheid, Jacqi Vene, Sam Brooks, Jordana Spiro.

Body Count: 11


At the end of 1994, Deena and Josh have subdued a possessed Sam and seek out help from the survivor of the Camp Nightwing massacre, ‘C. Burman’, who lives a paranoid, secluded existence with her dog in Shadyside.

We flashback to the summer of ’78 – when I was born, coincidentally – where a summer camp unites the snobby Sunnyvalers with the born-losers from Shadyside, who are aware of the curse that hangs over them, even if they don’t take it particularly seriously.

fear street 1978 2021

At the centre of this is Ziggy (the flame-haired Sink, from Stranger Things), who is repeatedly tormented by the nasty girls of Sunnyvale, who call her the witch. Ziggy’s older sister, Cindy, is a counsellor this summer, and strives for perfection in everything she does, much to the annoyance of her younger sister, and ex-BFF Alice, who is the requisite drugs-n-sex character we’re sure will be killed off early into proceedings.

Unlike Deena, Ziggy’s unapproachable, foul-mouthed nature is excused by the treatment of her by other campers, who are unrelenting in their torment and even try to hang her from the very tree Sarah Fier was lynched from 312 years earlier. Nevertheless, she attracts the eye of Nick Goode, future Shadyside sheriff, and plots a reaction prank on nasty Sunnyvale ringleader Sheila.

fear street 1978 2021

When the camp nurse, who happens to be the mother of the infamous 1963 killer, Ruby Lane, randomly attacks Cindy’s all-American boyfriend Tommy with a knife, she is overpowered and taken away. Looking for an explanation, Cindy finds an old diary amongst the nurse’s things, which is snatched up by Alice who, with her boyfriend Arnie, leads Cindy and Tommy into the surrounding woods to find what remains of Sarah Fier’s house. There, they locate a sub-basement with a still-burning candle and stones with the names of history’s killer etched into them …including Tommy’s.

Tommy is soon possessed, buries an axe into Arnie’s face, and narrowly misses the girls, who escape through a gap into a subterranean maze of tunnels that branch off from an icky blob that beats like a heart. While they try to find an escape, Tommy marches back to camp, axe in hand, and begins offing Shadyside staff and campers (as Sunnyvalers are seemingly immune to the curse).

fear street 1978 2021

Ziggy tries to rescue Sheila, who she locked in an outhouse after dumping a bucket of bugs over her, and locates Cindy and Alice trapped in the cave below the camp. The three girls band together to try and reunite Sarah Fier’s severed hand with the rest of the body, which will reportedly end the curse for good – but of course, various killers are spewed out by the blob-thing in the caves and do their best to thwart any attempts the girls make to set things right.

1978 is a vast improvement over 1994, with more and better characters, a pace and tone that doesn’t shift as jarringly, and great realisation of the summer camp locus – which, let’s be honest, was always going to be a winner for me. The trio of final girls works as a cross-section of good girl, bad girl, and rebellious girl, who get things done while the menfolk flail or fail. The kill scenes feel more at ease with the slasher conventions than before, are brutal without being excessive, and several times they recapture that Crystal Lake early-years feeling perfectly, right down to the music cues.

fear street 1978 2021

The legend of the witch also gets the attention it lacked in the first film, where it was treated more as a bit of a convenient background element. It makes sense to ramp it up as the films head towards the origin-third, but it’s deservedly front and centre in 1978, whereas it felt like something of an afterthought in 1994.

*

fear street 1666 2021

FEAR STREET 1666

3 Stars  2021/18/115m

“End the curse.”

Director/Writer: Leigh Janiak / Writers: R.L. Stine, Phil Graziadei, Kate Trefry / Cast: Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukerman, Gillian Jacobs, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jeremy Ford, McCabe Slye, Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Jordana Spiro.

Body Count: 17

Laughter Lines: “Little grease and these things go down easier than a Sunnyvale cheerleader.”


Deena reunites Sarah Fier’s severed hand with the rest of her remains and experiences everything she did through her eyes, waking up in 1666 as Sarah Fier – able daughter in the small settlement of Union (where Camp Nightwing and then the mall will later sit). Her attraction to the preacher’s daughter Hannah lands them in trouble when horny aggressor Caleb is rebuffed and later accuses the pair of witchcraft after Hannah’s father gouges out his own eyes and those of twelve village children, including Sarah’s brother.

She manages to flee for a while into the home of Solomon Goode and it’s revealed that he is the one who has made a deal with Satan for prosperity in return for a possessed soul every few years. After a chase, he succeeds in severing her hand and turning her over to the townsfolk, who hang her when she confesses in order to save Hannah.

fear street 1666 2021

Zipping back into 1994 and armed with the truth that the Goode family are in fact evil, Deena recruits Josh, Ziggy, and mall custodian Martin (seen briefly in the first film) to entrap Sheriff Goode and end the curse for good.

The finale takes place back where we started at Shadyside Mall with some sub-Home Alone style traps and Ziggy’s plan to “Carrie” Goode and let the reanimated killers of yore do the rest. Of course, things are complicated when a still feral Sam gets free and chases Deena into the cave system beneath the mall. But there’s a great gag with a stab-vest made from taped together YA horror books and a full, satisfying conclusion.

fear street 1666 2021

1666 lacks the slash element of the first two for the most part, but necessitates the origins of the tale to dovetail everything nicely – we only really spend about an hour in that period and actors from the other films play characters here for a neat consistency. The feminist leanings around the puritan-era’s ease in blaming a woman for the crimes of a man being exposed are great and it really is girl power that drives this train from start to finish, also allowing Deena’s character some redemption from the unpleasant attributes she was saddled with in 1994.

fear street 1666 2021 kiara madeira

1978 is the clear winner though, given the advantage of not having to yield to either a long set-up or climax, it had the larger canvas to draw over and a more fun sandbox to play in.

What is also worth mentioning is that Netflix went the extra promo step of setting up  retro Shadyside Video Stores in various cities, including Brighton, where I was able to browse shelves of old VHS horror tapes and reach into the rustic toilet for a bag of freebies.

fear street shadyside video pop-up brighton 2021

fear street shadyside video pop-up brighton 2021

Blurbs-of-interest: Drew Scheid (Gary in 1978) was in Halloween (2018).

Initiate 800th slasher flick

initiation 2020

INITIATION

3 Stars  2020/18/93m

“Murder is trending.”

Director/Writer: John Berardo / Writers: Lindsay LaVanchy, Brian Frager / Cast: Lindsay LaVanchy, Isabella Gomez, Lochlyn Munro, Jon Huertas, Froy Gutierrez, Shireen Lai, Gattlin Griffith, James Berardo, Yancy Butler, Maxwell Hamilton.

Body Count: 4


Minor spoilers. At Whiton University, frat boys and sorority girls party, drink, make-out, partake in all the cliches we’ve been watching on film for the past forty years. (I wonder, what do students who don’t pledge the Greek system do with their time?) Anyway, after intervening in a potentially awkward situation, science major Ellery takes her so’sis Kylie home and tries to find out why she was passed out on the bed of douchey frat Beau, behind a locked door in a room that also contained Ellery’s swim-team superstar brother Wes… There’s chatter about ‘what happened last year’, but Kylie just doesn’t remember.

initiation 2020 lindsay lavanchy shireen lai

The campus has an ongoing problem with frat boys “identifying ho’s to protect the bro’s” by adding single exclamation marks as comments on photos. Ellery tries to covertly run a DNA sequence on Kylie’s shorts to find out if her brother was involved in something bad, but before she can get her answer Wes is brutally murdered by a hooded killer wearing a reflective mask (that looks like the Transformers symbol) and power-drilled to a door.

The cops come, they interview his friends, his sister, evidence is discussed, the figurehead of the school makes a speech – but is he just scrambling to cover up something more sinister? Notably, a number of older male characters growl and grumble to their sons and legacies about keeping quiet. Two more boys from the frat are slain, then Ellery and her friends find themselves locked in the main building on campus, with the killer roaming free.

initiation 2020 gattlin griffith

Initiation is definitely an impressive looking beast and opts to treat its psycho-killer opus with a dose of reality, insofar that the killer is neither superhuman, nor able to effectively teleport to just the right place he needs to be to pounce. When hit, he limps, when stabbed, he bleeds; would-be victims are able to escape from him by hiding in good places.

It also inverts the standard expectations to some degree; the victims are all male and most are attacked when vulnerable, in states of undress – one has literally just finished masturbating! – that satirise the cow-girl templates of dumb bimbos screaming with their tops off.

initiation 2020 isabella gomez lindsay lavanchy

So why only three stars? The film plods a bit at an uneven pace, taking a full thirty minutes for anything horror-related to happen, and early on I was lost in a pool of characters who seemed to have confused purposes, culminating in no absolute lead to identify with rather than a bunch of possible suspects, as well as others who just disappear from the story altogether. It could have done with a bit of a re-edit, perhaps starting with the murder and then flashing back to the events that preceded it. A couple of the actors are also clearly way older than their characters. In more pertinent terms, I correctly guessed the killer towards the end due to the weight given to their otherwise minor presence.

Blurbs-of-interest: Spot Debra DeLiso from Iced and The Slumber Party Massacre as the assistant, Dana; Lochlyn Munro was also in Freddy vs. Jason, Hack!, Scary Movie, and The Tooth Fairy.

47 Christmases later…

it's me billy 2021

IT’S ME, BILLY

3 Stars  2021/43m

“You always knew he’d call back.”

Directors/Writers: Dave McRae & Bruce Dale / Cast: Victoria Mero, Shelby Handley, Malaika Hennie, Caro Coltman, Bryan Charles Peter.

Body Count: 2


I know it’s June, but here we are.

Fan films have come a long way since the days of a few friends, dad’s camcorder and a cheap dime store mask. As studios dither and overthink their franchises, resulting in legal disputes and long delays (*cough* Friday the 13th *cough*), fans with talent took matters into their own hands and the past few years have seen some low-rent output that’s arguably often better than what millions of dollars from a Hollywood studio could buy.

Into this hall of fame can be welcomed It’s Me, Billy, which gives us a 47-years-later sequel to seminal proto-slasher Black Christmas. College girls Sam, Emma, and Justine tried to access the house on Belmont Street where Sam’s late grandmother, Jess, was the sole survivor of the 1974 murders.

They journey on to Jess’s remote house in the wake of the woman’s death and before long receive a strange phone call from what sounds like several insane voices arguing with one another. Expectedly, Sam is soon on her own trying to fend off an insane killer until we’re escorted to an interesting final revelation that nods towards the distinct possibility of another follow-up in the future?

it's me billy 2021

It’s Me, Billy certainly looks and sounds the part, with its snow-dusted exteriors of jagged trees and empty roads; the score is a strong echo of the ’74 film and every little creak of a floorboard is like a cacophony of clanging metal pans in the dark. It’s also well acted by its primary cast of three.

The coda is interesting but negates the film somewhat, as it all leads up to a moment where the film simply stops when it’s just about to spark to life. This sense of incompleteness is a disappointment but if there’s a future plan here (a la Never Hike Alone) then great. And it’s still better than the 2019 ‘remake’.

Nightlife / Nightdeath

open 24 hours 2018

OPEN 24 HOURS

3 Stars  2018/18/103m

“Welcome to the graveyard shift.”

Director/Writer: Padraig Reynolds / Cast: Vanessa Grasse, Brendan Fletcher, Cole Vigue, Emily Tennant, Daniel O’Meara, Tomislav Stojanovic, Selina Giles.

Body Count: 8


Spoilers in aisle four.

A Canadian production, mostly filmed in Serbia, shrinks things down to a single-location boonies gas station, where recently paroled Mary (Grasse) lands a job covering the 10pm-6am shift as cashier.

Her crime? She set fire to her serial-killer boyfriend, The Rain Ripper, after he offed 35 young women, including several in front of her. Traumatised by this, Mary still suffers from flashback hallucinations that James is coming to get her. “He can’t even walk” says her best friend Deb, reminding her that James is locked up.

If that’s so, who is the rainmacked figure Mary keeps seeing lurking? Who keeps calling her? Who plays the old 50s love song down the phone like James used to before he went out on the hunt for a victim? Her gruff parole officer Tom convinces her she’s imagining most of it, but also cautions her that some of the victims’ relatives blame her for their loved ones’ deaths.

open 24 hours 2018

As the clock ticks away, Mary gets a couple of quirky customers, is checked on by day-employee Bobby, hears doors creaking in the empty market, finds strands of hair in blocked toilets, and a number of hallucinations. Then James shows up and tells her he is real. But… is he?

Yes. To put it bluntly, he has broken out of jail, clearly can still walk, and has somehow tracked her down to the gas station on her first night working there and abducted a few schmucks to kill in front of her – because he loves her. Or something.

Open 24 Hours doesn’t unfold in quite so typical slasher style, with victims captured for killing later when James has Mary where he wants her. The run up to this event is still decent though, making the most of the rain-soaked locus, shots where Mary’s stalker is stood behind her in the frame, but balances delicately along the beam of reality vs. paranoia: Can her mind be trusted?

open 24 hours 2018

In a post Haute Tension world I wouldn’t have been surprised if the twist was that Mary herself was the killer and projecting it all on a not-even-there James, but the film (wisely?) opts for the more acceptably obvious outcome: He’s real, he’s a killer, she’s the final girl. In that sense, Open 24 Hours wraps up to taut girl vs. loon final act that doesn’t pander to too many cliches. A tacked on ‘later’ scene is needless, but it at least assures us that Mary was okay as much as someone could be in that scenario.

A worthwhile effort for fans of nicely made indie-flicks that wring a lot out of a small cast and set.

Blurb-of-interest: Brendan Fletcher was in Freddy vs Jason.

Recurring Nightmare

bad dreams 1988

BAD DREAMS

3 Stars  1988/18/84m

“When Cynthia wakes up, she’ll wish she were dead.”

Director/Writer: Andrew Fleming / Writers: Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette, Yuri Zeltser, Steven E. de Souza / Cast: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Harris Yulin, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron, Susan Ruttan, Damita Jo Freeman, E.G. Daily, Susan Barnes, Louis Giambalvo, Sheila Scott Wilkinson, Sy Richardson.

Body Count: 9 (+24)

Laughter Lines: “If you wanna fit in with the 80s, you’re at least two divorces, a condo, and a yeast infection behind the times.”


Of all the Elm Street rip-offs, just a glance a the name and details of this should tell you it’s one of the most overt. Although, being pedantic about it, Bad Dreams targets Elm Street 3 for much of its pilfer source, not least by casting from that movie Jennifer Rubin (who played ex-junkie Taryn) as the lead.

Rubin is Cynthia, the sole survivor of a mass-suicide at the Unity Fields cult in 1975, where self-styled prophet Harris (Lynch) poured ladles of gasoline over his flock before burning them and himself to death. Thirteen years later (finally not five, ten, or twenty!) Cynthia wakes from a coma and is placed into the mental care of Dr Alex Carmen and joins his therapy group of oddballs to assist her integration into the 80s (see Laughter Lines).

bad dreams 1988 richard lynch

Among the other group members are anger-prone Ralph, sex obsessed couple Ed and Connie, seldom spoken Lana, jittery journalist Miriam, and Gilda, who just mutters stuff about destiny. Their issues aren’t particularly clear or realised well, unlike the Dream Warriors kids, where individual personalities were nailed down with ease by Craven’s script.

Cynthia neither fits in, nor wants to be there, but when she starts to see her dead cult leader in elevator or walking down the corridors, she thinks he’s come back for her to complete the transition to the next plane of existence blah blah blah. These visions coincide with the apparent suicides of the other group members, who drown, fall out of high-storey windows, and in one icky case throw themselves into a giant ventilation fan, causing blood rain throughout the clinic.

bad dreams 1988

The cops who have been waiting thirteen years for answers around the cult’s demise see Cynthia as the common link between the deaths, despite the fact she has alibis for each, Dr Carmen is fired, and Cynthia put into isolation where Freddy Harris can get to her more easily.

At this point, Bad Dreams releases its twist, revealing circumstances to be much more earthbound than we’ve been led to believe. It’s unexpected and a decent deception, but it renders a majority of the film redundant and leads to a soggy climax that feels half-baked before the credits just start rolling and Sweet Child O’ Mine kicks in.

bad dreams 1988

It’s a bit of an ‘Oh… okay’ moment, but the film is at least well made, boasts some interesting supporting characters and witty dialogue here and there. The flashback scene to the cult wilfully burning their own faces is intensely and unsettling. More time with the therapy group characters would’ve added some sorely missing depth to proceedings and meat for the actors to get their teeth into.

So how much does it borrow from Kruegertown?

  • Set on a psychiatric care ward a la Dream Warriors
  • Heroine repeatedly taken back to a creepy old house in her dreams/flashbacks
  • Death by fire
  • Ghoulish otherworldly stalker who the ‘adults’ can’t see (sometimes) appears all burnt up
  • Cynthia put into isolation ‘for her own good’
  • Doctor dismissed by hospital for getting too involved
  • Two cast members from Elm Street movies appearbad dreams 1988 bruce abbott jennifer rubin

Blurbs-of-interest: Harris Yulin was later in Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take; Richard Lynch was in Laid to RestCurse of the Forty-Niner, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween re-do; Charles Fleischer, the doctor from Elm Street 1, appears here briefly as the pharmacist.

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